The Hubble Space Telescope gets its final close-up after a shuttle servicing mission in 2009. (NASA Photo)
The 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope is temporarily out of service, due to the failure of one of its gyroscopic pointing devices, but scientists say they’re working on a Plan B.
In a tweet, the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute confirmed reports that Hubble scientists such as deputy mission head Rachel Osten were passing along over the weekend: One of the telescope’s four gyros had failed on Friday, which hampered the telescope’s ability to point at astronomical targets for long periods.
“Mission experts are taking steps to return Hubble to great science,” the Hubble team said in its confirming tweet. Further updates will be released in the hours and days ahead.
The news came as a shock to the fans of the venerable space telescope, which has sent down jaw-dropping images and data to address cosmic conundrums ranging from planetary origins to the age of the universe. Hubble’s success is due in no small part to five servicing missions flown by space shuttle crews, including an initial visit in 1993 to fix the telescope’s flawed optics and a final visit in 2009 that, among other things, replaced its gyros.
Since the shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, there’s been no possibility of repairing Hubble. The telescope has been on its own, but so far, the team’s scientists and engineers have been able to work around any maintenance snags.
Osten voiced confidence that such would be the case this time as well. Here’s how she and other scientists laid out the prognosis in a series of tweets:
It’s true. Very stressful weekend. Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do. Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last …read more